WFMAD Day 6 – When The Words Don’t Come

We all have days when the words don’t come.

I hate them.

It’s like all my creativity is frozen in a country that has never been drawn on a map. Write? Me? Ha!

::bangs head on table::

Where do these days come from?

Sometimes you can pinpoint the spot: you are worried about someone you love, another rejection letter arrived or your royalty check was for less money than the postage stamp it took to mail it. Maybe you’re coming down with a virus. Or you ate both pizza AND hot wings for dinner and you woke up to find your body has decided to slide into a semi-coma, complete with depression and headache, to make you suffer for eating such crap.

And then there are the days that mystify you. Everything is fine. You ate chicken and steamed broccoli for dinner. You’ve been flossing. You children help elderly people cross the street and then rescue kittens from storm drains. Your writing is even going well.

But you have one of those days anyway. You wake up sad or irritated with the world and when you set your timer to fifteen minutes and you sit down to write, you get absolutely……… nothing.

Your creativity is frozen.

I have a new way for you to look at those days. I think they are a natural part of the creative rhythm. Everything in nature cycles between fullness and fallow, between wax and wane. Why should your soul be any different?

The trick is to learn to recognize when you’ve stumbled onto a fallow time and to be prepared for it. You don’t want to stop writing – dear heavens, anything but that! Because it’s my experience that these mired, frozen times usually come right before a burst of creativity, and you want to be all limbered up and prepared for when that day dawns.


“You must do the things that you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt.

Set… turn off the phone, disconnect the Internet

Today’s prompt: Write about what it feels like to not be able to write. Curse vehemently. Describe your entombed creativity ten different ways. Give it a color, a sound, a song, a name. Describe what it would look like if it were a dog. A zombie. A banker.

Once you are done, take the paper that you wrote on to a safe place. Set it on fire. When the ashes are safely disposed of, go for a walk. Be sure to listen to lots of music for the rest of the day. Things will be better tomorrow.


26 Replies to “WFMAD Day 6 – When The Words Don’t Come”

  1. Yes, yes, this week has been a frozen one. No words. But more damning is that there are no ideas to nudge the first words to wakefulness.

    Well off to write and then burn that paper.

  2. I did not like this exercise. It scared me and made me face my deepest fears: being stuck and unable to write.
    Nor did I burn the paper, like you asked. I am keeping it to remember. Remember that I am human and that all other writers go through this. Yes, I agree that the times when I am idle, my brain is writing subconciously, and I have to be ready for the surge that is coming and the passion pours out like blood from a fresh, deep cut in my skin without warning and I stop in the midst of cooking dinner and run away to write.
    And that is when I feel so alive.
    This what Not Writing means to me:
    A vast black hole.
    My feet being sucked into a vacuum. Now my legs, my torso, my arms.
    A cold, dark hell.
    A garden without color.
    Screaming. All alone.
    A metal blanket of sadness wrapped around me like a cocoon.
    The eyes of a person with advanced Altzheimer’s.
    Feet glued to the floor, unable to move.
    A harness around my neck and shoulders, and someone is yanking. Yanking.
    A dog on a short chain, unable to reach its water bowl in 110 degree temperature.

    After my Laurie Writing Time (today was 30 minutes) I usually bounce out of my swing, energized to start the day.

    But today, I still sit in the swing and watch the hawk sweep down to grab a helpless song bird and my body feels too heavy to get up.

  3. I’m not a writer, but I organize one in real life. Your words and suggestions also reach out to us nonwriters. Solid outlooks on life and how to live it fully. So thanks!

  4. I agree with QueenLouise.

    Thank you for this post…I feel like this often…. For me it is like my breath is taken away while walking into the wind. Or screaming into a plastic bag wrapped tightly around my face. It is gray to search and not find. It is running in circles for hours, or empty words repeating themselves again and again and again. It’s ugly. It dosen’t even have a name, which makes it even worse.
    Thank you for the advice.

  5. If you have never been to her Val-Kill cottage in New York, it is well worth the visit. My mother adores Eleanor Roosevelt. While visiting her home, we learned that she would spontaneously invite ordinary people to join her on the train from New York to the cottage, and, in addition, be a last-minute guest at a planned dinner for dignitaries. Her staff was always prepared to add additional plates at the table, none of which matched. (My favorite fact.)

  6. Hi Laurie,

    Well, I’m joining this late as I saw the link to your blog on Twitter, but I think today was the ideal day to join in because it was the ideal topic! Even Picasso said there were no accidents.

    Thanks for your continued blog posts and incredible books. You were the first author that I ever read a book in one afternoon. Most times it takes me a few days to read a book, but I read “Speak” in one afternoon. It’s great to hear that the inner critic exists even for you, who wrote that amazing book!

    Ready, Set, Write!


  7. Years ago, my young son suddenly began throwing fits that quickly went from annoying to totally out of control. Eventually, I found myself begrudgingly accepting a popular parenting book from someone who obviously didn’t know that we were educated, enlightened parents and that our son’s behavior wasn’t possibly our fault. By the end of the first chapter, I found myself calling to my husband, “Holy crap – it’s like they’ve been following us around.”

    Your last two blog posts have been something like that. It’s almost creepy.

    Yesterday you described the “I don’t even know exactly where this is going but I can feel my protagonist in there trying to be heard” feeling of my current writing project, and I’ve spent my daily 15 minutes (which I’d hoped would break me out of this writer’s block) writing about how much it sucks when I can’t write anything of value.

    By the way, with some tweaked parental skills gleaned from the unwanted parenting book, we were able to stop making my son’s “phase” worse. I’m hoping that with some tweaked writing skills gleaned from your blog, I’ll be able to get back on course with this book.


    Um, thank you.

  8. Suprisingly today was the most creative day for me.
    I had no trouble jumping into where I left off yesterday, and I had no trouble finding the voices in my head (wow, I do have voices!) and listening to what they have to say for the narration of my story.
    However, next time I stumble across writer’s block, I shall definetly follow the instructions that Laurie has given to us. I think it would definetly help.
    Good luck today everyone!

  9. When your goal is 15 minutes of writing, it doesn’t feel like a mountain. I can tackle that time without worry…except when I can’t write at all. Then I know it’s a psychological block and I’m doing it to myself. Those are the most painful blocks.

    Most times, if I just start writing anything, I’ll get unblocked.
    Going for a walk helps, too.

  10. Since I’m on a roll right now, approximately 2,000 words a day, I’m not going to actually do this exercise, because I’m being very superstitious about this wip. However, I know absolutely that those days will come, and I’ll come back to this site and find this exercise and do it and move on from there.

    But while I’m being fed nectar and ambrosia, I’m going to savor them. Porridge will happen.

  11. Today was my most productive day, too. I’m grateful for the wisdom you provide in these posts, as well as the encouragement. Rock on, Writer Lady! Rock on.

  12. Oh my, that was some delicious, yummy, fill-me-up-to-the-top imagery. If that’s what your not-writing sounds like, I’m thinkin’ you’re doing pretty great! You go, Girl!

  13. I’m checking in late today.
    Didn’t get my time in until after dark but it’s good to write at a different time of day than usual, I think. Helps me see the words in a different vibe. Maybe because I’m running on less cylinders…

  14. I didn’t use the prompt yesterday or tonight – my goal was to use the prompts to spend time writing while forcing my brain to think differently. I’ve jotted the prompts down so come this fall and the leaves change color and the words don’t come one day – I can open up my WFMAD LHA Challenge folder and tap the neurons firing up the creativity.

    I have been writing at least 15 minutes a day – usually more. I’m working on revising and editing my book. I’m writing…just not always the promts as I had originally wanted to do.

    Tomorrow is a new day – thanks!

  15. Did my 15, yay! It was really hard today for some reason. Followed the prompt but won’t burn. Good reminder of what I can do when stuck. I also try to record observations of the day when stuck, a tip from Naomi Shihab Nye.
    I love the photo.

  16. My English composition prof. when I was a college freshman repeated often for us, “I never know what I think until I see what I write.” Not sure where that came from, but it is my writing truth. I don’t get stuck for writing because it is my think-aloud. It is my tool for articulating my inward self.

    However, such writing only happens to the stone-cold sober. And I’ve never been drunk on anything! I love to read great stories, but I’ve never told one. I am completely used by the orbit-halting importance of right-between-the-eyes truth. I must, must, must nail it so they’ll believe me. So if the subject at hand is what to do with stuck-ed-ness, I have to ask–stuck for words or stuck for a story?

    WFMAD is the womb for my cryo-creativity. It is the place where language and imagination beget a wet, screaming, living, breathing future. No telling what it will be when it grows up–so get out of the way and let it happen. Let it live and it will change the world!

    Let ME live.

  17. This prompt was painful. It recalled the horrors of high school.

    I was in an IB English class and suffered from a combo that proved fatal to many students: impossibly high personal standards mixed with a near pathological lack of self esteem. Nothing I wrote was ever good enough, even when the teacher praised its virtues. Eventually, there came a day when the words were frozen entirely. At times, it felt like death. At others, the pressure to perform was so intense that death felt like a pleasant alternative. I would sit upon my bed with my spiral notebook before me, clutch my pencil, stare at the blank page, and cry. The harder I forced the words to come, the deader my mind felt, until it was a struggle to even find the words to speak. Every essay assigned spurred anxiety. Every creative writing project made it difficult to even leave my bed each morning. I was tempted to drop out of high school just to make it stop.

    About ten years later, a spring thaw overwhelmed the dam and the words came in a torrent. The first writing was the literary equivalent of vomit, but I didn’t care. It simply felt too amazing to be able to write at all. By today, I have learned that the words come and go like the turning of the seasons. I wait out the winter, the words always return in the spring, I look forward to the high quality writing of summer, and I accept that it will gradually diminish in the autumn. Each season may last a few days or span several weeks. During the winter, I channel my creativity into art. I draw maps. I sketch character portraits. I invent props or paint backdrops. Eventually, the concept art inspires the return of spring, and the stories continue to be told.

    I often wish I could hug my teenage self, squeeze her tight when she was all but paralyzed, and reassure her that there would come a day when writing would be a source of her greatest bliss. I wonder if the pain would have been less numbing.

  18. Yesterday was one of those lucky days where the writing went smoothly, so I’m saving this prompt for one of those days where all I want to do is curl up in a little ball and hide from the voices that aren’t speaking.

  19. This prompt was hard for me to do because it reminded me of what I do feel like when Iam stuck. I feel like I have done something I should not have done, so there is no reward. The no reward feels like someone has superglued my creative mouth shut. It takes pulling myself outside of myself impatience to get the creative juices flowing again.
    This is what writing prompts tend to be about, to help one discover something about themselves or their work that they did not know.
    I will probably be thankful later.

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